FEBRUARY 28—AN INCIDENT???
By Kevin Anthony Stoda, Taiwan
There are many holidays in Taiwan, including regional, local, and national ones. Some change by the international calendar—others rotate on the traditional Chinese Calendar. A few years ago, as most schools and many institutions and factories were reducing the workweek from 6 days to 5 days, there were some calendar reforms here concerning holidays in the land once known as Formosa. Some traditional holidays were eliminated from the official calendar. Others were either combined or became optional holidays—much like in the USA where some states still celebrate Lincoln’s birthday while most do not. Finally, some new holidays came into being.
One of those holidays is today: February 28. It is called 228 (2-28) after a so-called “incident” that led to the deaths of anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 Taiwanese in March 1947. Today it’s a holiday that calls on the peoples of Taiwan to really reflect on who they are how their island has historically functioned as a land quite separate from mainland China.
According to one writer, this is the background to the events in February and March 1947. “In 1945, 50 years of Japanese rule ended, and in October the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) handed administrative control of Taiwan as a province to the Kuomintang-administered Republic of China (ROC). But one year (16 months) of KMT administration led to the widespread impression that the party was plagued by nepotism, corruption, and economic failure. Tensions increased between inhabitants and the ROC administration. The flashpoint came on February 27 in Taipei, when a dispute between a cigarette vendor and an officer of the Office of Monopoly triggered civil disorder and open rebellion that lasted for days. The uprising was violently put down by the military of the Republic of China.”
In this part of the narration, the Kuomintang (KMT narration on Wikipedia) does admit that the “incident” that followed the February 27 dispute were a revolt against mainland China’s corrupt occupation of the island of Formosa after WWII.
In 1947—and thereafter—there has certainly been more than an “impression” that the KMT and its leading henchmen of that era were “plagued by nepotism, corruption, and economic failure”. Moreover, 228 or 2-28 became a buzzward to resistance against the KMT’s martial control of the land over the subsequent decades.
Online are several books on the so-called “incidents” of February 28. Here is the link to this classic, FORMOSA BETRAYED.
Regarding this important work, by George H. Kerr, “This book is a damning indictment of the KMT administration in Taiwan in the years just after World War II. It contains detailed information on Chiang Kai-shek, Chen Yi, 2-28 (the massacre of thousands of Taiwanese that began February 28, 1947), and many other subjects.”
“George H. Kerr, the author of the book, was in Taiwan during that time, serving as vice consul at the U.S. consulate.” It took the author. George Kerr, 18 years to publish this account in the USA. (Kerr was forced to leave his beloved second home in March of 1947, i.e. while the massacres were taking place.) The U.S. did not want to hear much during the McCarthy Era about how bad the Chiang Kai-Shek regime was to the millions of Taiwanese people it subjugated after the withdrawal of USA controls of the island, i.e.s as a protectorate (for the United Nations) after WWII.
Unlike the government of Japan, who had occupied Taiwan from 1895 through 1945, the incoming government of the KMT took the best for itself but left no major construction projects, like trains and railroad networks for the first few decades. Instead in the first two or three years after the war, equipment and infrastructure from Taiwan were simply schlepped back to the Mainland to the KMT’s few strongholds .
In his introduction to FORMOSA BETRAYED, Kerr’s supporters noted that after the Japanese had left their brutal occupation of the island, 80% of the Formosa (Taiwan’s) population was literate—which was the opposite of what the KMT had left conditions in mainland China like—after 30 years of power there.
Nonetheless, the KMT arrived as conquerors and rapists of the islands resources. They proceeded to run the island under martial law through the late 1980s (and the islands of Matsu where I live until 1992.)
For nearly 40 years after “the incidents”, the events of 2-28 and March 1947 remained fairly sealed.
Only in the last decades has a memorial park been created in Taipei to commemorate the so-called revolt or incident on February 28, 1947. Finally, during the prior decade, the date 2-28 began to be commemorated in Taiwan, but sadly most Taiwanese residents do not openly take this date to reflect on what there fore-fathers faced in terms of the erasing of Formosan memories from the 1950s onwards.
Meanwhile, thousands of statues and busts of the so-called founding father of the KMT—Chiang Kai Shek–remain throughout the country. The party of Chiang Kai Shek is again in power and KMT officials continue to downplay the relevance of continued apologies for the sins of their fathers.